In 1836, President Jackson accepted 1,400-pound wheel of cheese from Col. Thomas Meacham, a dairy farmer near Sandy Creek, NY. The cheese was mammoth, and it sat, ripening, in the White House for over a year. Eventually, Jackson invited everyone in Washington, DC, to stop by and help consume the massive wheel. He threw the doors open, and in just two hours, the cheese was gone.Even members of Congress went crazy for cheese and were absent from their seats. From the Vermont Phoenix, March 3, 1837:
Mr. Alford opposed the motion for a recess. He said it was time, if they intended to do any public business this session, that they forthwith set about it, for they had wasted enough time already. As for the battle with the great cheese at the White House, he was for leaving it to those whose tastes led them there, and to-morrow they might receive a full account of the killed and slain. The gentleman from Maine, (Mr Jarvis) could as well finish the speech he was making to the few members present, as not.
Mr. Wise remarked that it was pretty well understood where the absent members had gone. There was a big cheese to be eaten at the White House to-day, and the appetites of members had driven them there to partake in the treat. To obtain a quorum he therefore moved that the Seargent-at-arms be directed to go to the President’s house, and invite the members there to return to their seats. [“Those that have done eating!”—exclaimed a member.] “Oh yes,” continued Mr. W. “those that have done eating their cheese, of course.” [“And let them bring a portion with them,” said a third.] “No, he did not want any of it—he had no wish to partake of any thing at the White House.”
A motion was again made that the House take a recess till 4 o’clock.
This true story is the basis for today’s first virtual “Big Block of Cheese Day” at the White House, which is hosting an online open house for citizens to ask questions. Sadly, there will be no physical cheese giveaway!
When we heard about the event, our archivists hunted through our records, but there are no official Federal documents relating to the cheese, probably because the cheese was a private gift. (In fact, we only turned up a handful of cheese-related records, including a recipe for making “loaf” from cottage cheese.)
However, we did find a mention of Jackson and cheese in this handwritten note (see page 4 and 5) from President Truman in 1952. The White House was being renovated, and Truman was thinking of previous Presidents and their treatment of the official furnishings.
Truman wrote, “Then old Andy Jackson and his rough, tough backwoods [illegible] walking on the furniture, with muddy boots and eating a 300-pound cheese, grinding it into the lovely Adams and Monroe carpets!”
Jackson was not the first President to receive a giant wheel of cheese as a gift. President Jefferson received on as well. There is even a monument in Cheshire, MA, to the cheese press used to make the cheese for Jefferson.
Alas, this cheese slicer was patented 30 years too late to help President Jackson get rid of his cheese more quickly….
Cheese Press & Slicer patents thanks to our colleagues at the National Archives at Kansas City!
Patent for a cheese press, given to Luke Hale in June, 1838 (National Archives at Kansas City).
Patent for a cheese slicer, granted to J. G. Barker in 1860 (National Archives at Kansas City)
Yesterday afternoon, the National Archives launched Founders Online—a tool for seamless searching across the Papers of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton. A partnership between the University of Virginia Press and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, you can read more about this massive undertaking at Prologue: The Papers of the Founding Fathers Are Now Online
National History Day winners had the honor of making the inaugural search, reportedly using the keyword “Cheese.”
But what kind of cheese did the Founders favor? We found at least 2 hits for “Stilton” — the “king” of cheeses. Maybe some intrepid Tumblarians can find a more egalitarian variety within?
It’s National Cheese Lover’s Day!
INTERIOR OF THE CHEESE HOOP, ONE OF THE SPECIALTY SHOPS IN HELEN. IT IS LOCATED ON ALTE STRASSE (OLD STREET), A COBBLESTONED CUL-DE-SAC IN THE MIDDLE OF HELEN’S MAIN STREET SHOPPING CENTER… 09/1975
Al Stephenson, photographer. From the EPA Series: DOCUMERICA: The Environmental Protection Agency’s Program to Photographically Document Subjects of Environmental Concern, 1972 - 1977
What’s your favorite cheese?